Much More Than Just Sweets
When sightseeing in a place, your frame of mind is to seek out something new, appealing and unique that fills your desire to experience. This frame of mind is often lost when you live in that place. However, once every so often it is rekindled when you stumble across a place or hear of a place in your conversation with the locals. In this case, I heard of a sweets shop that is regarded very highly by those who know it.
Hachinoki Shichifuku (鉢の木七冨久, はちのきしちふく) is located in a nondescript building, nestled amongst apartment buildings, houses and tight parking spaces in Takasaki, Gunma prefecture. It would not be regarded as a convenient location by any means, but that is trivial once you see, appreciate and taste the quality of products on offer.
My wife, who grew up in Takasaki, has always spoken glowingly of this sweet shop whenever we passed near. Her association with it began when she was learning the fine art of 茶道 (さどう, sadou), known as the tea ceremony in English, in her earlier years. Before tea is prepared and served, guests usually receive a sweet known as 和菓子 (わがし, wagashi) in order to balance or complement the bitterness of the tea depending on your familiarity with the flavour. According to my wife, the tea master would always without fail source their wagashi from this one shop. The reason was simple: if the quality of the wagashi is high, the flavour of the tea is enhanced and the memory of the experience becomes more cherished.
Hachinoki Shichifuku opened its doors in 1916 and has remained in the same family since, currently being run by the 3rd generation owner. Having learned his craft in Kyoto, the current owner’s goal is to maintain the traditional method of making authentic wagashi and producing a wide variety based on season or cultural events such as the Japanese Children’s Day, Setsubun, and Tanabata festivals, or even the western cultural events that are common in Japan, such as Valentine’s Day and Christmas. The owner is proudly one of few in the country who also specialise in the aruheito style of candy that was introduced to Japan by the Portuguese more than 350 years ago.
The products are exquisite. The thought and care that has gone into each and every piece is truly impressive. Upon entering the shop, visitors are in awe of the beautiful and delicate objects on display. For a time, you are not visitors to a shop that sells edible products, rather a museum or exhibition of craftsmanship. It isn’t until you notice the price tag that you remember it is food, but even then you can’t help but be astounded at the cost. If items were priced on the quality, effort and precision put into the design of a single item then these products are an incredible bargain. Design aside, the flavours are meticulously balanced to complement green tea or to be eaten alone.
I would highly recommend the deliciously mild and silky 珈琲ぜんざい (kohi zenzai, coffee jelly), and the 蓬莱 (hourai), which are similar to dorayaki but are sweet bean filled castella. And of course, you cannot go into the shop without buying a range of wagashi. They truly are amazing, and a quintessential element of Japanese culture.
Name: Hachinoki Shichifuku
YouTube: Wagashi on YouTube: Stephen Howes
Location: 73, Akasakamachi, Takasaki-shi, Gumma, 370-0818
Hours: Open 9:00-18:30. Closed Wednesdays.